Mayor, community leaders applaud $800K donation from Dollar General for early literacy efforts
Nine months ago, a shocking state statistic inspired the Nashville Literacy Collaborative to create the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, a citywide initiative to double the number of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.
“To this day, I am shaken to the core by the statistic that less than one in three kids at the end of third grade reads on grade level,” said Shannon Hunt, CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. “There’s no way you can hear that number and not sit up in your chair and think ‘Oh my goodness, what can we do?'”
Mayor David Briley and community leaders gathered Friday to discuss the blueprint’s progress, as well as celebrate an $800,000 investment by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.
The grant includes an immediate $500,000 gift and an additional matching donation up to $300,000 that will be used to double future community giving. The money will be used to fund the first phase of the blueprint which provides activities through June 2019.
“Nashville’s plan is unique in that it is championed not just by one stakeholder, but by many,” said Denine Torr, senior director of community initiatives for Goodlettsville-based Dollar General. “It is exciting to see the way organizations across the city are already supporting this effort programatically and philanthropically, and we hope these funds will encourage others to step forward and continue the collaboration.”
The Nashville Literacy Collaborative — a working group of 20 organizations assembled by the mayor’s office, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the Nashville Public Library — released the blueprint last fall to address Nashville’s critical early literacy deficit, and its leaders say the city has already seen gains.
“We have also launched large-scale efforts to bolster summer reading programs; recruited nearly 200 partners as neighborhood reading champions; created the Jump In community literacy awareness campaign; and launched a six-school pilot to test new curriculum and other school based interventions,” Hunt said.
Metro schools saw a slight increase in early reading proficiency after TNReady scores were released July 19, with 26.7 percent of third through eighth grade students on track or higher in the subject, up from 25.4 percent in the 2016-17 school year.
“Improving early literacy remains one of the top priorities for the district,” Metro Schools Director Shawn Joseph said. “This is a citywide problem that requires a citywide effort.”
The Dollar General donation — combined with substantial donations from the Scarlett Foundation, the Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund, The Nashville Predators Foundation, Ingram Charities and several others — gets the Nashville Literacy Collaborative 75 percent of the funds needed for the initiative’s first phase.
Briley said there were many measures of success in Nashville right now — lowest unemployment ever, more wealth created everyday and better jobs than ever before — but one measure recently stood out to him that is problematic.
“It takes about $80,000 a year to live comfortably in our town and on average, people are making about $49,000, so there’s about a $30,000 gap,” Briley said.
“That gap is really evident when you talk to certain communities,” the mayor said. “It’s fundamentally a failure of the city in terms of workforce development, which is really about education.”
Community leaders say the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success will pay off.
“I see the impact reading has on children every single day,” Nashville Public Library director Kent Oliver said. “Strong reading skills can mean the difference between a child’s succeeding and a child’s dropping out of school.”
Members of the Blueprint Community Steering Committee include:
- Alignment Nashville (Melissa Jaggers)
- Center for Nonprofit Management (Samantha Wigand)
- Dollar General Literacy Foundation (Denine Torr)
- Mayor Briley’s office
- MNPS (Dr. Shawn Joseph and Dr. Monique Felder)
- Nashville Public Education Foundation (Shannon Hunt and Jennifer Hill)
- Nashville Public Library (Kent Oliver)
- Scarlett Foundation (Tara Scarlett)
- United Way of Metropolitan Nashville (Erica Mitchell)
To view the full Blueprint for Early Childhood Success or learn more, visit blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com.